About the Holiday
All this month people are reading and celebrating their favorite books—both old and new. It’s also a terrific time to honor independent bookstores that serve their community with carefully chosen titles for all ages of readers. Some indies focus on one genre or age of reader, offering a vast array of familiar and surprising books for customers to explore. Others are known for a particular ambience—mysterious, scholarly, fun! But all give readers a sense of community and a feeling of awe and wonder at all of the stories to discover. This month make a stop into your local bookstore a family event and pick up a new book (or several) for everyone!
Written by Cary Fagan | Illustrated by Dena Seiferling
In a wordless spread, a child with a tricycle cart full of various shaped crowns wheels through a field, spilling crowns as she goes. Later, a mouse creeps out of his hole in the ground and looks for something to nibble. He finds no food but does spy a small crown “glittering in the grass.” After inspecting it, he places the crown on his head. “It was a perfect fit.” Just then a bear walks up and asks the mouse if he is a king. The mouse replies that he is. The bear bows and cries, “‘Hail to the king!’”
Soon a crow lands on a nearby branch. The bear introduces the mouse king. When the crow learns that the mouse is hungry, the crow immediately sets to looking for food to offer him. As the bear and the crow gather food, a tortoise approaches. Thrilled to learn that they “at last” have a king, he joins in. The mouse gobbles up all the seeds the trio brought.
After he was full, the mouse announces that he is bored. As the three are deciding what to do, a fox appears. She suggests they perform a play. The mouse is delighted with the drama. He applauds. “‘I haven’t been this amused for ages,’ he said. ‘I like being king.’” Meanwhile, a snake slithering through the woods spies another crown. She puts it on her head.
As soon as she does the other animals hail her as their queen. Everyone, that is, except the mouse who isn’t too happy. When the animals bow to the queen, the fox, the tortoise, and the crow each find a crown just their size hiding in the grass and proclaim themselves royalty. The bear searches for a crown for himself but can’t find one. He plods away while the others dance around singing their own praises. The bear finds a tree stump and sits down, dejected about his lack of good luck.
Discovering that the bear is no longer with the group, the mouse goes in search of him. When he finds him, the mouse removes his crown and begins picking dandelions. He creates a wreath and gives it to the bear. The two sit quietly together. When the sun begins to set, the mouse hints that he might have a better vantage point “from up there.” The bear obliges and lifts the mouse to his shoulder. “‘I’m not really a king,” the bear sighs. The mouse agrees and then notes the beautiful sunset. Now it’s the bear’s turn to agree, and “they sat for a long time.” Returning through the field, the child, her tricycle cart now empty, spies a pile of five crowns discarded on an old tree stump.
Cary Fagan’s modern fable has much to say and, as the genre often affords, offers much for readers to ponder and talk about. It is a fitting time for this story that, among other themes, questions the nature of leadership. When the mouse finds the first crown, not only does he proclaim himself king but he demands food and entertainment from his sudden subjects, unconcerned with their needs. But, yet, the animals mechanically bow to him and rush to fulfill his whims. When the snake, crow, and tortoise also find crowns, they gleefully decree their own sovereignty, forgetting the bear.
The mouse, however, seems to have learned a lesson. When he finds the bear, he removes his crown and offers one of his own creation to the bear, making him the only “king” independently chosen. Wiser than the others, the bear understands that he does not rule the others, and the mouse too sees that the equality of friendship and the grandeur of nature that is beholden to no one is more majestic than any crown. The introduction of the child in the wordless spreads give kids and adults the opportunity to discuss the possibility that the main story is one of imaginative play. Fagan’s dialogue-rich storytelling spotlights themes of pride, envy, disappointment, friendship, inclusion, and modesty and makes this a perfect tale for a school class, drama troupe, or other group to act out.
Dena Seiferling’s soft, sepia-toned illustrations give the story a magical, dream-like quality while also anchoring it in the “real world.” Small snapshots that accompany the text on the left-hand pages introduce each animal as they come on the scene while full-page images clearly show the progression of the story and the changing attitudes of the animals. Early on, the mouse is uncertain, nibbling at the unknown object he finds. But once the crown is settled on his head, it takes only three pages for him to be accepting tributes and one more to find him lounging and demanding.
Children will be enchanted by the dramatic scenes of the play the animals put on for the mouse, and the tall crown the snake wears is a cunning stroke of suspense and one-upmanship. The illustration of the bear leaving the group as the others, oblivious to his feelings, parade around provides an opportunity for adults to talk about empathy and inclusion. As the bear and the mouse watch the setting sun together, readers can imagine that a new and more thoughtful day will dawn tomorrow.
A profound and affecting book, King Mouse is a story that will move and inspire children to think about interacting with others. The book would be have multiple applications for home, classroom, and school libraries and is a must for public libraries.
Ages 3 – 8
Tundra Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-0735264045
Discover more about Cary Fagan and his books on her website.
To learn more about Dena Seiferling, her books, and her art, visit her website.
National Book Month Activity
Book Love! Word Search
There are all kinds of books for every reader. Find your favorite along with twenty favorite genres in this printable puzzle.
You can find King Mouse at these booksellers
Picture Book Review